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This book asks an important question:
If you were born in rural England in 1837 and died in 1901 and never travelled more than thirty miles in any direction would you have seen a hippopotamus before you died?
The answer is, surprisingly, yes.
In fact, the roads of England were thronged with all manner of creatures. There were even exotic butterfly farms. Kangaroos hopped around the lawns of stately homes, tigers prowled the backstreets of the East End, a tapir terrorised the people of Rochdale, an angry cassowary pursued a Lord as he was out for his daily ride, a boa constrictor got loose in Tunbridge Wells.
This book is the first to explore the full and surprising extent of the exotic animal trade in nineteenth-century England and its colonies. It combines deep and original scholarly research with a lively style aimed at the non-academic reader. It looks at zoological gardens, travelling menageries, private menageries, circuses and natural history museums, to show exotic animals played a key part in the Imperial project and in the project to ensure that leisure was educational. It shows how this trade was intimately connected with the tides of Empire and how, as Germany rose, one area of competition in which Britain came off worst was the scramble for elephants.
Professor John Simons is Executive Dean of Arts at Macquarie University. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts; the Higher Education Academy; the Zoological Society of London, and the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. He is on the advisory council of the charity Voiceless and the advisory board of the Australia India Youth Dialogue; a board member of the Council of Australasian Deans of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, and the Council for Humanities the Arts and Social Sciences. He is also co-chair of board of 2SER – a community radio station in Sydney. He has published very widely on topics ranging from Middle English chivalric romance to Andy Warhol and from codicology to the history of cricket. Since the late 1990s he has mainly concentrated on the issue of animals and his chief publications in the field are Animal Rights and the Politics of Literary Representation (2002) and Rossetti’s Wombat (2008).